Dear Wally Ben,

It’s been 5 (and a half, as you’d say) years since you were just a little lump that was tossed up my way by the nurses and doctor. I remember kind of screaming in surprise (and I remember, a few days later, laughing so hard I peed my pants—not hard to do at that point in a mother’s life—at your dad’s impression of your little floppy body coming up my way). And now I am kind of slowly screaming in surprise that we are here—that you are about to be walking into a building wearing a backpack that looks much too big on your little body. Walking into the building away from me. Walking into a building to start a whole new life adventure.

I am excited for you! You will be learning new things about math and reading and life. You have so many questions all the time, and maybe some of them will be answered by someone who doesn’t have to Google it! Once you have the answers, though, be sure to keep asking questions. If you can keep asking questions, you’ll discover one of the best things about this world—that the more you learn, the less you can see that you know. The minute you stop asking questions, you become one of the most unbearable kind of people—a know-it-all. A stuck person. And the worst—a person without wonder. The mountain of questions and answers just keeps going up—so never stop climbing.

I understand from several overly and dramatically (and maybe unnecessarily?) tense meetings about “Getting Ready for Kindergarten” that the things you have to learn might be difficult. Kindergarten is the new first grade, they say. You will be challenged academically. (It sounds ridiculous to even say to you “challenged academically.” These are big words, I know. Maybe you’ll learn them this year!) You’ll have placement tests, and you and your classmates will be ranked and sorted based on what you know. You may be placed high, you may be placed low—at some point, you may start to wonder if this matters. It doesn’t. This is life. We all get to be good at some things and bad at others. One of your favorite adults struggled through his school years, had so much trouble, hated school, and now he is a successful, happy middle school art teacher. Later in life, when you are an adult who is doing something that you love, no one will ever ask you how you did on that MAP test.

You will also be meeting new friends. This year, I asked you who you sat by at snack time at preschool. (This was my outside way of finding out who you were friends with in class.) You said, “Anyone!” So I asked directly who you were friends with. You gave the best answer: “They are all my friends!” Keep this attitude, Wally. I am so proud of it, and it will take you so far in school and in life. Even better, if you see anyone who doesn’t have a friend, seek him or her out. All good friendships are built on a common thread, and you know that you at least, for the rest of your lives, will have that you went to elementary school together. You might not believe me now, but when you run into these people as adults, you will have a special memory zone for your schoolmates, a special kind of nostalgia—whether you were friends with them or not! So you may as well get to know them. And maybe you will find something else you have in common. Maybe they will become a lifelong friend. You never know unless you try!

And if you ever feel alone, that’s okay. It’s a good life lesson. We all feel alone sometimes. If it’s any comfort, love can fill those empty-feeling spaces inside. You can think of me and daddy and God. We are with you, we are for you, and we will love you with an everlasting love.

And now, just a few housekeeping items. Raise your hand before speaking. Be nice, polite, and listen to your teachers—they would probably rather be reading or napping or on a beach somewhere (just naming things I would always rather be doing), and instead they are there for you. Make them glad to be there. Don’t moon your friends (or your enemies, for that matter). And if you have to use the bathroom, please don’t say, “I have to go poopies.” And when you return from the bathroom, please don’t describe your success in great detail. No one wants to know how big, or how long, or how many there were.

The first day of school, you will walk up to the building where it all begins. I will say these things: Have fun. Make friends. Learn a lot. Ask nicely to use the bathroom. And if you could read this letter, you would know what I mean. But you can’t yet—that’s what this whole school thing is for, it’s what it is all about. No, you cannot read this yet. So that day, I will leave you with this, and hope that it sticks: I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.



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